Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bob Dylan: Trouble No More 1979-1981 - The Bootleg Series - Volume 13 (Part 1)

Lately I've been having evil dreams, I wake up in a cold blue glare
I run the tape back in my mind, wondering if I took the wrong road somewhere
Searching for the truth the way God designed it
When the real truth is that I may be afraid to find it

– Need A Woman

Throughout the summer of 1979, rumors circulated that Bob Dylan had become a born-again Christian. To most of his fans, the idea was preposterous. How could Dylan, a Jewish protest singer and free-thinking rock and roll iconoclast, have embraced Christian fundamentalism?

In August, Dylan released Slow Train Coming, a set of deeply religious songs that more than confirmed the earlier speculation. Dylan frequently had used Biblical imagery and references in his lyrics, but this was entirely different, and much more than literary allusion. While the music was rooted in rock and R&B, the lyrics were unambiguous expressions of faith in Christ and stark denunciations of non-believers. Insisting "there's only one authority and that's the Authority on high", Dylan pointedly asked: "When You Gonna Wake Up?"

Less than two weeks after a three-song appearance on Saturday Night Live in late October, Dylan began a tour of small theaters on the west coast. That was when fans got the real shock. Dylan ignored his entire back catalogue, refusing to play any song written before his conversion.

This was the bravest, most mystifying, most controversial, and utterly unexpected twist from a man famed for confounding expectations. Dylan's new stance reverberated across musical, cultural, and religious lines, producing a wider and more profound shock than when he famously plugged in an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. As Dylan biographer Howard Sounes put it, "Electricity had annoyed folk purists, but religion bothered everybody."

On the surface, what is now generally referred to as Dylan's "gospel period" was an abrupt and bewildering turn of events. Yet it was wholly in keeping with Dylan's artistic sensibilities. As he has eagerly absorbed all forms of American music – folk, country, blues, gospel – Dylan has refused to remain in any one musical place for very long. The creative spark Dylan derives from swimming against the cultural tide, fueled by the friction between his art and the public's expectations and reactions, has spurred him to create some of his best music. Invariably, by the time Dylan's fans have become comfortable with what he's done, he's already charting a course in another direction.

Slow Train Coming and Saved are message albums, just as Dylan's folk masterpieces are, even if the message wasn't what his fans wanted to hear. A closer look at Dylan's career reveals how far back he had been searching for something, asking family, friends, and fellow musicians about prayer, religion, and Christianity. His lyrics on John Wesley Harding are drawn from and inspired by his Bible reading. Street-Legal, the record that preceded Slow Train Coming, maps Dylan's inner turmoil following his divorce and leaves him on the cusp of a momentous transformation: "There's a new day at dawn and I've finally arrived. .. I can't believe it, I can't believe I'm alive."

Dylan began 1979 by attending Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of Discipleship, near his home in California. (Several members of his Rolling Thunder and Street-Legal bands were either born-again or belonged to the Vineyard Fellowship.) When Dylan began writing songs from a strict religious perspective, he was both surprised and scared. "I didn't like writing them. I didn't want to write them ... I didn't want to sing them." But by April, he had accepted this new direction: those songs would comprise his next album.

On Slow Train Coming and Saved, Dylan portrays himself as someone whose errant way of living should have landed him in a "pine box" years ago. Blinded by the devil, beaten down and empty inside, he was rescued by a "precious angel" who led him to the Lord. He feels he does not deserve this gift of salvation. "You have given Your life for me/How can I live for You?"

Not only has Dylan vowed to change his way of thinking – to "stop being influenced by fools" – he thinks you should, too. According to Dylan, we are all going to have to serve either the Devil or the Lord: "There ain't no neutral ground". He wants to know: "Are you ready for the judgment?/Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?" Dylan confesses some self-doubt – "I hope I'm ready" – but remains resolute: "I am pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord."

Dylan says he has been shunned and exiled by his "so-called friends" because "I don't be like they'd like me to". The religious context is new, but Dylan's image of himself as an uncompromising outsider is one of his recurring themes:
"I try my best to be just like I am, but everyone wants you to be like them" (Maggie's Farm, 1965)

"I just can't do what I've done before" (Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine), 1967)

"If I'd lived my life by what others were thinking, this heart inside me would have died" (Up To Me, 1974)

"What good am I if I'm like all the rest?" (What Good Am I?, 1989)
Dylan's religious lyrics are more straightforward than his usual writing, but their simplicity can be deceptive. The songs convey a lot of information, which may not be obvious without some familiarity with the Bible. Dylan's artistry is bringing together multiple scriptural ideas, yet still leaving the lyric with a light, flowing feel.

The attention paid to these religious lyrics obscured the fact that Dylan had also written some magnificent music. Both albums were recorded at Alabama's famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios with legendary producer Jerry Wexler. On Slow Train Coming, Dylan's backing band, led by guitarist Mark Knopfler and augmented by a horn section, gave many of the songs a warm R&B groove.

Anyone hoping for a return of the "old Dylan" in 1980 would have been seriously disappointed by Saved. The music was pure gospel, though it failed in capturing the power and passion of the band's live sound. In singing almost exclusively about his personal redemption, Dylan offered an astonishing affirmation of his faith in the face of intense criticism.

Back in November 1979, a San Francisco Chronicle writer called Dylan's initial gospel concert "god-awful", and that set the tone for many subsequent reviews. There were news reports of hostile crowds booing and storming out of theaters, but bootleg recordings of the shows reveal that Dylan's songs of faith were often warmly received. There were some rough audiences, of course. The band took a tremendous amount of abuse in Tempe, Arizona, in late November, although Dylan made things worse by antagonizing the hecklers.

Each night began with a short set of traditional spirituals sung by a trio of female backup singers. Dylan would then come out with the full band and play most of Slow Train Coming. He would take a short break while the women sang another song or two, returning for another set and an encore. He usually played between 16-18 songs. The second half of each show consisted almost entirely of songs no one had ever heard (most of them would be released on Saved). Angry and confused fans yelled out requests for Dylan's hits – or any of his old songs – but he ignored them.

Despite the negative reaction, Dylan was playing some of the most exciting music of his life. (That sentence could also have been written in 1966.) At first, the band was tentative – getting accustomed to the shouts from the audience and feeling its way through the newer, Saved songs, even as Dylan was tinkering with the arrangements. They could rock, but it was the slower, more reflective songs – "I Believe In You," "When He Returns," "Saving Grace" – that stood out every night.

Dylan was singing with urgency, vulnerability, and sincerity, sharing something intensely personal, trying to connect with his audience in a way he rarely had before. It seems to be the time when he was least interested in playing the role of "Bob Dylan".

He was also uncharacteristically talkative during many of these shows, lecturing the crowds about the Book of Revelation and the "end times". Many of his monologues (often referred to as "raps" or "sermons") – how Russia's recent invasion of Afghanistan presaged the coming battle of Armageddon – were heavily influenced by Hal Lindsey's book, The Late, Great Planet Earth.

As the tours went on, though, Dylan softened. He eased up on trying to convert the audience, and even joked about fans walking out on him. At one January 1980 show, while in the thick of playing the unreleased Saved material, he quipped, "And the hits just keep comin'." In April, Dylan added some fresh material to the set. One song, "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody", was written after he met with several rabbis who urged him to return to his Jewish roots.

When Dylan played a series of concerts in November 1980 dubbed "A Music Retrospective", he added some of his earlier material to the set. He toured for most of 1981, playing a full mix of his music, both secular and sacred. On his 1984 tour, the gospel songs were all but absent, however, leading many people to assume Dylan had moved on, that his embrace of Christianity had been a passing phase. But Dylan has continued to play songs from Slow Train Coming and Saved at various points over the years and he has made references to his faith in his more recent songs.

(More on "Trouble No More" to come.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rosenberger Posts

My posts related to Joseph Rosenberger and his Death Merchant books can now be found here.

Future Rosenberger posts will be posted at that blog.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Heylin: "Dylan Delivered An Unceasing Barrage Of Biblical Glossaries"

UPDATED: 15 Songs from the Box Are Streaming!

UPDATED: Links to 9 songs below!

From the Introduction to Clinton Heylin's "Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years - What Really Happened":
Just as from September 1965 to May 1966, the shows which ran from November 1979 to the following May saw the gospel gauntlet thrown down nightly. Dylan delivered an unceasing barrage of biblical glossaries set to the soundtrack of a heavenly choir and a band of unbelievers riding the musical tide all the way to New Jerusalem. ... He would continue beating his ecumenical drum most of the time for the next eighteen months.

For much of this period, his was very much a voice in the wilderness. Much of the media, and a large percentage of his hardcore fan base, simply switched off. ...

As for the shows themselves, journalists delighted in reporting that this 'voice of a generation' couldn't even sell out intimate theatres. ...

So, on the face of it, hardly the sort of period where a thorough revisit would send ripples of excitement through the Dylan world in 2017. And yet, when at the start of the year Dylan's long-time manager hinted to a Rolling Stone reporter that the next Bootleg Series (lucky thirteen!) would re-examine the gospel years afresh, the fan sites were abuzz with anticipation. ...

The good news – praise the Lord of Happenstance – is that the period 1979 to 1981 turns out to be among the best documented eras in Dylan's six-decade-long career as a recording/performance artist. ...

With the release of an 8-CD Deluxe Bootleg Series, the three studio albums [Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love] will no longer be the be-all and end-all of the gospel years, and we are a whole lot closer to knowing what really happened, artistically. As always with Dylan, it turns out that the more we understand, the more we can enjoy...
Box Set: November 3.
Book: November 14.

Bob Dylan - Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series - Volume 13

Slow Train, October 5, 1978 (Soundcheck)

Slow Train, October 2, 1979 (Rehearsal, with horns)

Slow Train, November 16, 1979 (San Francisco, CA)

Making A Liar Out Of Me, September 26, 1980 (Rehearsal, Previously unknown song)

Every Grain Of Sand, September 26, 1980 (Rehearsal)

The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar, November 13, 1980 (San Francisco, CA)

Solid Rock, June 27, 1981 (London, England)

Slow Train, June 29, 1981 (London, England)

When You Gonna Wake Up, July 9, 1981 (Oslo, Norway)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Last Month, The United States Expressed Its Support For The Murder Of People Because Of Their Sexual Orientation, Or Religious Or Personal Beliefs

Pierre Tristam, Flaglerlive:
Last [month] at the United Nations the United States cast a vote that speaks loads about where this country is going ...

The vote was on a resolution condemning the execution of people for their religious or personal beliefs ... [T]he resolution was condemning executions of people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender ...

It was the first time in the history of the United Nations that the world community had agreed more or less together that killing people for their sexual orientation is as fundamental a violation of human rights as murder. ...

Yet the United States voted against it.

This is not the vote of a great country. It's the vote of a small-minded, a mean and demeaning country. ... You may be proud of it. I'm not.
This is a portion of the resolution rejected by the United States (it can be read in full here):
The Human Rights Council,

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations ...

Deploring the fact that, frequently ... laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association ...

Condemning the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations ...

Also urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations ...
Andrew Bacevich, Tom Dispatch:
Consider, if you will, these two indisputable facts. First, the United States is today more or less permanently engaged in hostilities in not one faraway place, but at least seven. Second, the vast majority of the American people could not care less. ...

While serving as defense secretary in the 1960s, Robert McNamara once mused that the "greatest contribution" of the Vietnam War might have been to make it possible for the United States "to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire." ... [A] half-century later, his wish has become reality.

Why do Americans today show so little interest in the wars waged in their name and at least nominally on their behalf? ...

1. U.S. casualty rates are low. ...

2. The true costs of Washington's wars go untabulated. ...

5. Blather crowds out substance. When it comes to foreign policy, American public discourse is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- vacuous, insipid, and mindlessly repetitive. ... Cheerleading displaces serious thought.

7. Anyway, the next president will save us. At regular intervals, Americans indulge in the fantasy that, if we just install the right person in the White House, all will be well. ...
Bacevich quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Azeezah Kanji, Toronto Star:
Last month, two well-known Americans — former president Barack Obama, and whistleblower Chelsea Manning — were supposed to visit Canada. ...

Two weeks ago, Canadian border officials prohibited Manning from entering the country ...

Obama, in contrast, was eagerly embraced when he arrived in Toronto to deliver a speech last Friday. He was greeted by throngs of admirers and acclaimed by media commentators ...

As president, Obama claimed the authority to engage in covert wars without congressional authorization, bypassing legal provisions ...

Obama used the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in 2001 ... to justify the campaign against Daesh (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, even though Daesh publicly split from Al Qaeda in 2014. In 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped more than 26,000 bombs on seven different countries.

Obama's manipulation of the AUMF transmuted it into a license for open-ended aggression ... Obama increased the use of drones outside official theaters of war, raining death on thousands of people, including unknown scores of civilians. At the same time, his government successfully fought to preclude judges from reviewing drone killings, keeping the use of lethal force behind a wall of secrecy and unaccountability. ...

Under Obama, the only official punished in connection with the U.S. torture program was John Kiriakou: the ex-CIA employee who blew the whistle on it. ...

Obama prosecuted more than twice as many whistleblowers as all previous administrations combined ...

One of the whistleblowers attacked during Obama's presidency was Chelsea Manning ...

None of the documents that Manning publicized were top secret ... And yet, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and subjected to treatment the UN described as "cruel and inhuman." ...

In his speech last week in Toronto, Barack Obama hailed those who work to "pull [the arc of the moral universe] in the direction of justice." But as president, Obama not only failed to pull with the champions of justice; he often punished them.
Bill O'Reilly, "Mass Murder In Las Vegas":
Once again, the big downside of American freedom is on gruesome display. A psychotic gunman in Las Vegas has committed the worst mass murder in U.S. history. ...

[G]overnment restrictions will not stop psychopaths from harming people.

They will find a way. ...

This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.
Michael Harriot, The Root:
News reporters and anchors have repeatedly referred to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas as the "worst mass shooting in U.S. history." Like all things that are constantly repeated, the proclamation has become fact. ...

Is 64-year-old Stephen Paddock the worst mass shooter in the long history of America? Does the Las Vegas incident qualify as the "deadliest" mass-shooting incident?

Only if you don't count black people. ...

Bloody Island Massacre
Pomo Indians Remember 1850 Bloody Island Massacre

The Colfax Massacre
The 1873 Colfax Massacre Crippled the Reconstruction Era

The Thibodaux Massacre

The Elaine Massacre
America's Forgotten Mass Lynching: When 237 People Were Murdered In Arkansas

The Bombing of Black Wall Street
The Legacy of the Tulsa Race Riot
It's Been 96 Years Since White Mobs Destroyed Tulsa's Black Wall Street]

We will not count the 1864 Fort Pillow massacre in Tennessee, when Confederate troops mowed down 164 black soldiers who were surrendering, because that is officially a war crime. The same goes for the 1864 Saltville Massacre in Virginia. The Achulet Massacre of Native Americans in California in 1854 doesn't count, either, because they were killed for their land, so technically that is a robbery. Some say as many as 150 were killed in Rosewood, Fla., in 1923, but the official count is six.

The mass deaths at Philadelphia's MOVE headquarters in 1985 don't make the list because law-enforcement officers bombed the men, women and children living there. And the time whites nearly wiped out the Wiyot Native American tribe in 1860 doesn't belong on this list because the Wiyot were killed with knives and hatchets as well as guns.
The Grapevine, October 9, 2017:
"Chance the Rapper Livestreams Police Stop in Chicago in Case It Goes 'Sideways'"

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Gospel Bob: Nine-Disc Set Of Dylan's Christian Recordings Due November 3

Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Volume 13 / 1979-1981 - eight CDs and one DVD spotlighting Bob Dylan's "gospel period" - will be released on November 3.

Only one of the 102 tracks has been previously released. In addition to dozens of unreleased live performances and studio outtakes, the set features 14 songs which have never appeared on any Dylan album in any form.

As the 1970s ended and the 1980s began, Dylan responded to the changing of the decades with a three album trilogy – Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) – of spirit-filled songs of praise, worship and devotion. These songs were as deeply personal and packed with poetics as any Dylan had ever written, but the force of conviction and power of faith evident in these performances baffled segments of Dylan's fanbase (just as Dylan's "going electric" had alienated folk purists in 1965).
I have been fascinated by this short, much-maligned period of Dylan's career for many years. This was a time when Dylan appeared to be performing with a minimum of masks, when he perhaps allowed more of his true self to be seen than at any other. And he was serious. During three short tours in late 1979 and early 1980, Dylan performed only his new religious material; everything else he had written was ignored. He also preached to the audience, sometimes talking for close to ten minutes about world events (especially in Russia and the Middle East), what form the anti-Christ might take, and the coming Battle of Armageddon.

Also available in November: Clinton Heylin's Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years - What Really Happened, described as "the first book to focus on the life and works of Dylan as a born-again Christian from the perspective of both his artistic growth and the development of his eschatological worldview. It will draw on previously undocumented song drafts, rehearsal tapes, and new interviews with engineers, musicians, and girlfriends."

Rolling Stone calls this period "an intense, wildly controversial time that produced three albums and some of the most compelling and confrontational concerts of [Dylan's] long career".
Most [of the 14 unreleased songs from the era] have circulated in fan communities, but "Making a Liar Out of Me" has never been heard anywhere. "It wasn't even known to exist until we started going through the tapes," says the source. "Others were just played a few times on concert. We were able to go to the original sources for everything, even if it's just a cassette source. It's all going to sound better than anyone has ever heard before. ...

None of [Dylan's sermons] will be included on the set. "You had to be there at the time for those things to really work," says the Dylan source. "We wanted to find something that would be a little more dynamic." Heylin, who quotes Dylan's sermons at length in his book, is disappointed by the decision to leave them off the set. "It does slightly dull the edge," he says. "I do think that there was an element of power, particularly in the live performances, that comes from some of the things that Dylan was saying between the songs. This does tone down some of the seriously apocalyptic nature of Dylan's performances and some of the things he was writing. I guess that's understandable in 2017." ...

The deluxe edition of Trouble No More opens with two discs of live material culled from every leg of the gospel tour. They had a breadth of material to draw from since an Otari MX-5050 captured every night of the tour. The tapes are two-track, but the sound quality is extremely high, far better than the many bootlegs from the time that exist.
Disc 1: Live
1. Slow Train (November 16, 1979)
2. Gotta Serve Somebody (November 15, 1979)
3. I Believe in You (May 16, 1980)
4. When You Gonna Wake Up? (July 9, 1981)
5. When He Returns (December 5, 1979)
6. Man Gave Names to All the Animals (January 16, 1980)
7. Precious Angel (November 16, 1979)
8. Covenant Woman (November 20, 1979)
9. Gonna Change My Way of Thinking (January 31, 1980)
10. Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (January 28, 1980)
11. Solid Rock (November 27, 1979)
12. What Can I Do for You? (November 27, 1979)
13. Saved (January 12, 1980)
14. In the Garden (January 27, 1980)

Disc 2: Live
1. Slow Train (June 29, 1981)
2. Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (April 24, 1980; unreleased song)
3. Gotta Serve Somebody (July 15, 1981)
4. Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One (November 16, 1979; unreleased song)
5. Saving Grace (November 6, 1979)
6. Blessed Is the Name (November 20, 1979; unreleased song)
7. Solid Rock (October 23, 1981)
8. Are You Ready? (April 30, 1980)
9. Pressing On (November 6, 1979)
10. Shot of Love (July 25, 1981)
11. Dead Man, Dead Man (June 21, 1981)
12. Watered-Down Love (June 12, 1981)
13. In the Summertime (October 21, 1981)
14. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (November 13, 1980)
15. Caribbean Wind (November 12, 1980)
16. Every Grain of Sand (November 21, 1981)

[Dylan played Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One only three times; this is the first.]

Disc 3: Rare and Unreleased
1. Slow Train (October 5, 1978; soundcheck)
2. Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (December 7, 1978; soundcheck)
3. Help Me Understand (October 5, 1978; unreleased song)
4. Gonna Change My Way of Thinking (October 2, 1979; rehearsal)
5. Gotta Serve Somebody (May 4, 1979; outtake)
6. When He Returns (May 4, 1979; outtake)
7. Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One (May 1, 1979; unreleased song)
8. Trouble in Mind (April 30, 1979; outtake)
9. Ye Shall Be Changed (May 2, 1979; outtake)
10. Covenant Woman (February 11, 1980; outtake)
11. Stand by Faith (September 26, 1979; unreleased song)
12. I Will Love Him (April 19, 1980; unreleased song)
13. Jesus Is the One (July 17, 1981; unreleased song)
14. City of Gold (November 22, 1980; unreleased song)
15. Thief on the Cross (November 10, 1981; unreleased song)
16. Pressing On (February 13, 1980; outtake)

[The first two songs were played at the end of Dylan's Street Legal tour. On Slow Train Coming, Dylan sings When He Returns accompanied by only a piano. He recorded a full-band version and I hope that is what's included here.]

Disc 4: Rare and Unreleased
1. Slow Train (October 2, 1979; rehearsal)
2. Gotta Serve Somebody (October 9, 1979; rehearsal)
3. Making a Liar Out of Me (September 26, 1980; unreleased song)
4. Yonder Comes Sin (October 1, 1980; unreleased song)
5. Radio Spot - January 1980, Portland, OR show
6. Cover Down, Pray Through (May 1, 1980; unreleased song)
7. Rise Again (October 16, 1980; unreleased song)
8. Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (December 2, 1980; unreleased song)
9. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (May 1, 1981; outtake)
10. Caribbean Wind (September 23, 1980; rehearsal)
11. You Changed My Life (April 23, 1981; outtake)
12. Shot of Love (March 25, 1981; outtake)
13. Watered-Down Love (May 15, 1981; outtake)
14. Dead Man, Dead Man (April 24, 1981; outtake)
15. Every Grain of Sand (September 26, 1980)

[An incomplete version of Yonder Comes Sin circulates. Maybe this is the full song. The lyrics to Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody in December 1980 are completely different from (and far more complex than) the April 1980 version. Maybe we'll be able to decipher the words in the second version with a high-quality recording. And while Caribbean Wind is here, it is (inexplicably) not the live version (the only time Dylan played it - a version many fans find superior to the several studio attempts that have been bootlegged).]

Disc 5 – Live in Toronto (April 1980)
1. Gotta Serve Somebody (April 18, 1980)
2. I Believe In You (April 18, 1980)
3. Covenant Woman (April 19, 1980)
4. When You Gonna Wake Up? (April 18, 1980)
5. When He Returns (April 20, 1980)
6. Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody (April 18, 1980; unreleased song)
7. Cover Down, Pray Through (April 19, 1980; unreleased song)
8. Man Gave Names To All The Animals (April 19, 1980)
9. Precious Angel (April 19, 1980)

Disc 6 – Live in Toronto (April 1980)
1. Slow Train (April 18, 1980)
2. Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (April 20, 1980)
3. Solid Rock (April 20, 1980)
4. Saving Grace (April 18, 1980)
5. What Can I Do For You? (April 19, 1980)
6. In The Garden (April 20, 1980)
7. Band Introductions (April 19, 1980)
8. Are You Ready? (April 19, 1980)
9. Pressing On (April 18, 1980)

Disc 7 – Live in Earl's Court, London (June 27, 1981)
1. Gotta Serve Somebody
2. I Believe In You
3. Like A Rolling Stone
4. Man Gave Names To All The Animals
5. Maggie's Farm
6. I Don't Believe You
7. Dead Man, Dead Man
8. Girl From The North Country
9. Ballad Of A Thin Man

[Dylan began re-introducing his other songs into his sets in late 1980.]

Disc 8 – Live in Earl's Court, London (June 27, 1981)
1. Slow Train
2. Let's Begin
3. Lenny Bruce
4. Mr. Tambourine Man
5. Solid Rock
6. Just Like A Woman
7. Watered-Down Love
8. Forever Young
9. When You Gonna Wake Up
10. In The Garden
11. Band Introductions
12. Blowin' In The Wind
13. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
14. Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Disc 9 – DVD
Trouble No More – A Musical Film
DVD Extras:
Shot of Love
Cover Down, Pray Through
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Alternate version)
Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (Complete version)
Precious Angel (Complete version)
Slow Train (Complete version)
The DVD is not of a full concert, as many fans hoped, but "a new feature-length cinematic presentation combining unreleased footage from Dylan's 1980 tours". Variety notes that about three-fourths of the film consists of concert footage. (Dylan's show in Toronto on April 20, 1980 was professionally filmed and bootleg copies have circulated for years. It is essential viewing. Four songs from that show are included on Discs 5 and 6, including Dylan playing piano on a stunning "When He Returns".)

AND ....... If you order the deluxe box set from Dylan's official website, you will also get a bonus two-disc set of the complete show from November 28, 1979 in San Diego. (Only half of that show circulates as a bootleg.)

Friday, September 08, 2017

Still Here

It's been roughly nine months since my last post, but I will be posting again soon.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Death Merchant #69: The Miracle Mission

Holy Avenger

They called themselves the Brotherhood of Belial - a diabolical alliance of Red Brigade and Arab extremists. Together they'd staged one of the most shocking and blasphemous acts of world terrorism: the theft of the sacred Shroud of Turin. Someone has to recover the precious relic and teach the terrorists a lesson they won't forget.

Now the CIA has its own avenging angel. His name: Richard Camellion. 

Only the Death Merchant could lead a strike force of Israeli paracommandos from a daring kidnapping in Damascus to a stunning air assault in Tunisia - and lead his enemies into the hellfires of Judgment Day!


As the book's back cover states, a group of terrorists have stolen the famous Shroud of Turin and it's up to the Death Merchant to get it back. For this mission, Camellion teams up with fellow mercenary Lester Vernon Cole (aka the Widow Maker).

Courtland Grojean, Camellion's CIA boss, explains that the terrorists (a mix of Italian Red Brigades and Moslems) "want to strike at Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. The Arabs have a long memory and their hatreds run deep. What better way to show up the Christian world than by destroying the Shroud? ... [It] would be Score One for World Terrorism and could begin an escalation against Catholic Shrines all over Europe. We want it nipped in the bud. ... Camellion, find that Shroud and whack out the scum who stole it. I don't give a damn how you and Cole do it."

The book opens with Camellion and Cole sneaking up on an Italian villa where Ahmed Nasir al-Din is supposedly hiding out with various Red Brigades district leaders. Al-Din is the main contact for the Syrian Vice President, who is also the brother of the President and a major link in financial support of terrorist organizations trafficking in heroin. The CIA had been watching al-Din and tracked him to the villa, which is owned by a "well-known left-wing sympathizer" who is also "a wealthy manufacturer of mass-produced ballpoint pens and pencils".

After their assault on the villa - al-Din was able to escape during the shootout - they learn from one of the survivors that al-Din lives in Damascus and knows who stole the Shroud. (Also, during the shootout, author Joseph Rosenberger takes time out to describe various artifacts in the room that end up being destroyed, including "a recreation of a 1927 sculpture by the famed Arthur van Frankenberg—a nude, in a sleek black lacquer finish, standing on a silver globe, her arms holding up a black half globe on which rested an eighteen-inch-diameter piece of plate glass" and "two prints of paintings by Renoir in hand-carved hardwood frames and a tall green tulip-shaped vase resting on a teakwood side table".)

Camellion says that he and Cole cannot do this job without the help of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. There is a meeting with two Mossad agents, who say they know where al-Din lives. An agreement to attempt a kidnapping of al-Din is made. During the meeting, Cole rants about the Pope and all of the children that "God sends" to poor people in Africa and Latin America. (Rosenberger has included this complaint in at least a dozen Death Merchant books, including the last volume. He clearly was no fan of the Pope.)
Cole gave a loud snort. "That's even more ridiculous than the Pope's running around Africa and Latin America and exhorting the populace, who already have countless millions of children they can't feed, to accept all the crumb snatchers 'God sends them'. I didn't know that God was in the business of 'sending' babies to people! I tell you, religion has caused more misery in the world than all the dictators in history!
Then we shift to the POV of the Red Brigade leaders meeting in an abandoned barracks on the top of Mount Mijerda. We get a lot of explanation and exposition as they discuss the possibility of their ransom demands (33 billion lira and the release of six Red Brigade prisoners) being met. The thieves' goals are two-fold: "make the Vatican look like the corrupt, imperialistic suppressor of the workers that it actually is" and to force the Pope to make a speech asking Israel to give a homeland to "our people". (Even if their demands are met, they plan to burn the Shroud.)

Rosenberger must have done a ton of research on the Shroud, and he dumps much of it into a chapter that has Camellion and Mossad agent Benjamin Eshkol talking about the relic on an El Al plane ride. At one point, Eshkol says, "I gather than you think the Shroud is a fraud." Camellion replies:
"A lot of accepted 'truth' today is the result of what people thought in the past. We in the Western world have progressed because, thousands of years ago, our part of the race began following the Greek rationalists. That's why Western man won't leave anything alone, why he is constantly asking 'why' and looking for new ways not only to shape nature but to extend his hopes and dreams and ambitions out into the universe itself. That's the difference between the West and the East. People in the East are content with the past. They are satisfied with what they have. Oh, sure, the Arabs drive cars and carry transistor radios, but their ethics and moral values are the same as those that prevailed a thousand years ago. ...

"The future will prove that almost all of our concepts about god, creation, and the universe are false. Fifty years ago scientists proved that the 'biblical version of creation was only a tale based on ignorance and myth—understandable for those times. We in our own way today are equally as ignorant. Tell the average man that he is not a solid object, that everything he perceives to be solid matter is only electrical points of energy, and he will think you should be carted off to the funny farm. The gods all men worship today are man-created, man-manufactured myths with all of man's own emotions—love, hate, mercy, revenge, blood-letting, punishment—and even regret! We are still intellectual pigmies on the universal ladder of evolution.

"It is for that reason that much of the world's problems are still being caused by religious beliefs that are unrealistic and misplaced in time, rightly belonging to the past, their true origins coming from those days when people believed the earth had 'four corners,' and it was common for deluded men to 'talk with the gods.' The only thing man has to save himself from is his own stupidity and destructive impulses. And what does all that have to do with the Shroud. Nothing, really."
After landing at Lod Airport, they are taken to a meeting with various Mossad generals. The plan is to get into Syria (or, as Rosenberger puts it, "President Assad's little Disneyland of Moslem morons") by way of Jordan. There are spots along the border that are not guarded in the middle of the night. The crossing goes without any trouble and soon they are on the road to Damascus. They eventually arrive at a shop run by Abdullah and Leila Talalka, who know the area in which al-Din lives (Kaft Susah, three miles southwest of the city).

At night, Camellion, Cole and two others sneak up on al-Din's house, which "loomed like some kind of jet-black monolith of evil, daring them to come closer". They shoot it out with the guards and make their way upstairs. Al-Din, his wife and young son surrender and are taken to a waiting helicopter. (Apparently, his wife is not very attractive: "Mrs. al-Din was so ugly she would have to beg a peeping Tom for an appointment.") Once they are in the air, Camellion threatens to toss the young boy out of the copter if al-Din doesn't give them the necessary information. He tells them the Shroud is in Tunisia, in a little village called Takrouna.

Fifteen hours later, in Tel Aviv, discussions are underway about how to attack the village and rescue the Shroud. Camellion knows that Israel is assisting the United States in this mission because the US has promised to give Israel various military weapons. But why is the US so eager to help the Vatican?
[T]he Vatican's influence was actually nil. Nations faced reality, not the "wisdom" of fifteen hundred years of superstition. For the U.S. to be a part of a surgical strike directed at terrorists hiding in Tunisia, something far more than "Vatican influence" had to be involved. The Death Merchant would never know the true answer.
During the planning, Cole nearly comes to blows with a commando named Haim Reber while discussing "the merits and demerits of world religious beliefs". We only hear Cole's side of things, though:
The paratrooper became angry when Cole bluntly remarked that all monotheistic religions are "brutally militant." Cole had then stated that fanatical believers in the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran were "brainwashed halfwits" who had been killing each other for centuries without realizing that they had more in common than they had against one another and that there was simply "no way for anyone with intelligence to decide which of their 'unique revelations from God' was the true one.

"A fanatical Moslem will trot out the same dumb arguments for his point of view as a Bible beater. Neither can listen to reason because their entire system of belief excludes common logic and depends absolutely on following an external authority. The very existence of this authority, as well as the emotional security of the 'true believers,' requires a whipping boy—an excluded class of sinners and heathens and infidels, poor saps you can punish and send to 'Hell.' These religious fanatics believe the weirdest of fairy tales and call this kind of stupidity 'faith.' That Roman lawyer and idiot Tertullian said 'Credo, quia absurdum est!—I believe because it is absurd.' He was a damn fool. Tell a man you believe the moon is only five hundred klicks away, and you believe it because such a belief is 'absurd,' and he'll tell you you're crazy."

Cole had then given a more rational example—and it was this illustration that enraged Reber.

"Or consider how the Jews in Israel expect the world to accept the belief that God 'gave' them the land of Israel five thousand years ago! Only a fool would believe such crap!"

It was then that the enraged Reber jumped to his feet. The Death Merchant, afraid that Vern would break the man's neck, immediately stepped between the two men, as had Colonel Hille, who had then proclaimed loudly that from then on, there would be no discussion of religion or politics between the Americans and the Israelis.

Later the Death Merchant had told Cole, "You've got to learn to keep your opinions to yourself, Vern. We both know the world is five hundred years behind reality."

"Bunk!" Cole had snapped. "You know as well as I do that a truly intelligent person who is honestly religious is as rare as rocking-horse manure!"

"That's not the point. When you castigate a person's religious beliefs, even if you tell him the truth, you seriously interfere with his sense of eternal 'social security,' his adult 'security blanket.' You remind him of his own stupidity. No one likes that."
The Death Merchant has no illusions that the upcoming attack will cause future terrorists to think twice (despite saying the exact opposite earlier in the book: "With this strike into Tunisia, we'll be sending a message to all terrorists, especially the Islamic Jihad: Scum who grab religious relics will pay for it with their lives."). At the same time, Rosenberger gets to sound off on a few political issues:
American planners did not have the capacity to understand the fanaticism of Moslems, especially the psychotics in the deadly Islamic Jihad—"Holy War." Both the CIA and the Mossad had hard intelligence to prove that the Jihad was trying to recruit West European and American mercenaries to carry out specific operations involving nuclear terrorism. Small nuclear devices—ones below the one-kiloton destructive capability range—would kill five to ten thousand people outright and infect thousands more with radiation. It would happen in some city in Western Europe and in the United States. Already four American cities had been targeted—New York, Chicago, Omaha, and Los Angeles. It would happen because European governments did not have the common sense and the ability to stop it. The same applied to the United States, only more so. The American answer to terrorism, other than hot-air speeches about "our greatness," was always given by left-wing trash and unrealistic liberals. They would attack the rights and the freedom of the general public instead of dealing with the real problem and its solution. Led by the Kennedys, O'Neals, Cranstons, and Dodds who were constantly demanding "gun control" as an answer to crime, this bloc of airheads would only reluctantly admit that terrorism of the worst kind was even possible in the U.S.A. If it did occur . . . shucks, SWAT teams could handle it! It was enough to make even a halfway intelligent person vomit. Against automatic weapons, grenades, and shoulder-fired missiles, the best SWAT teams in the U.S. would be blown away as fast as either Camellion or Cole could kill a man with his bare hands. The police couldn't even make the streets safe for citizens! In Washington, D.C., a woman couldn't go out at high noon without being propositioned, or assaulted, by one of her "equals"! Yet SWAT teams were going to protect the American people from terrorism! Childish, ludicrous, and not only ridiculous but pathetic.

The Death Merchant knew the answer: Nothing will be done until ten thousand people are killed in a twinkling of an eye and another twenty thousand die more slowly from radiation poisoning.

Yes, sir . . . we're going to see some exciting times before 1989.
An attack force of 58 Israeli paracommandos heads to Tunisia and as they approach Mount Mijerda, the copters' GAU-8/A Gatling guns start spitting out 30-mm projectiles, riddling the barracks below. As a steady stream of metal death rains down on the barracks, the other copters land and the commandos get out. Meanwhile, inside the structure, one of the terrorists (Rodocanachi) says he's going down to the dungeon to burn the Shroud!

The Death Merchant and the others attack the barracks, tossing in HdGr 69 offensive grenades and Lodtz L-2 grenades (nicknamed the "Revenge of God") as they move room to room. ("When exploded in a closed room, the shower of steel left a victim resembling ground beef over which blood had been poured.") As they do, the "Italian and Middle East pig farmers" retreat back to other rooms. (We get other slurs, too: "sand crab", "sand crawler", "towel heads", "European spaghetti gobblers" and "garlic snappers".)

At some point, it is every man for himself. In addition to a variety of karate moves intended to disarm and kill, Camellion also tosses some choice insults at the terrorists, including "May a camel crap in your curds, you stupid sand eater!" and "May you find a Mullah with measles in your bed—stupid!"
As Ikrit pulled back with the knife and Abu-Akawi picked up an empty Galil assault rifle, the Death Merchant used his right hand in a very fast Teisho palm-heel strike. It caught Ikrit in the end of his chin and snapped his head back with such force that intense pain shot through his cervical vertebrae.

Again Camellion moved to the right to avoid Abu-Akawi. He grabbed Ikrit's right wrist and twisted, forcing the knife to fall to the floor and making the sand crab's shoulder move higher. Before Ikrit could make any moves or even try to free himself, Camellion pulled back hard on the arm, swung the dazed man toward Abu-Akawi, and executed a left-legged Tae Kwon Do Hyung high middle front snap kick, the toe of his boot burying itself deeply in Ikrit's armpit and against the side of his chest. Now it was Ikrit's turn to shriek in agony. Bones cracked, thoracic organs were jarred, nerve endings ripped apart. In agony, Ikrit became a mass of helplessness, shock causing him to stumble around and vomit all over himself.

Kamal Abu-Akawi was only partially disabled, with a few broken bones in his right hand. He felt he was going to die, but he had to try something. He did have more sense than to the empty Galil AR at the Death Merchant. Instead, he tried to spear Camellion in the pit of the stomach with the end of the barrel. Only Camellion wasn't where he was supposed to be! During that minimoment, Camellion had leapt high off the floor. His body was almost horizontal as he executed a thunder kick with both legs, one foot landing on Abu-Akawi's face, the other foot catching him across the throat. Abu-Akawi dropped the Galil, let out a strangled yell, and stumbled over the arm of a corpse on the floor. He fell heavily, landing on his back. He was choking to death, and not only on broken teeth or a broken nose and shattered jaw. The foot that had crashed into his throat had turned his larynx into bloody mush and crushed the upper portions of both his trachea and his esophagus. Within half a minute he would be as dead as he would ever get or could possibly be.

Haj Fayiz Ikrit was still alive, however—and desperately trying to find a hiding place he knew didn't exist. He found only the waiting arms of the Cosmic Lord of Death.
As for the rest of the enemy, "they were in the toilet and all that Camellion had to do was pull the chain and flush them into nothingness". Soon, the fight is over. "The Death Merchant, wishing he had brought a sack of pumpkin seeds with him, looked around. Vern Cole and three paracommandos had come into the room and were also assessing the bodies on the stone floor, some almost piled on top of each other. Among them were dead Israelis, the brown pattern of their cammies contrasting strangely with the terrorists' half-nakedness."

A small group heads for the dungeon. In one of the cells, they see a faint light. It's Rodocanachi, sitting on the floor, cackling quietly in what seems like a lobotomized state ("a picaresque character in some hideous, hellish play"). His hair has turned snow-white and he is now blind. The men smell petrol and see several burnt matches on the floor - and then see the intact, undamaged Shroud. Why didn't it burn? "I don't have an answer," says Camellion. (While everyone is pretty spooked at this, absolutely no one is troubled that the ancient Shroud was completely doused with gasoline.)

They pack up the Shroud and head out. On the plane, Cole is unusually quiet. "What had taken place in the dungeon had unnerved Cole and had forced him to review his value system and his belief in the future, in the eternal". Camellion also has no idea what happened. "The so-called science of coincidence could not be applied, not in this case."

So Rodocanachi went to the dungeon and had plenty of time to destroy the Shroud, but since the Shroud needed to be saved, this was apparently the only explanation Rosenberger could come up with. It's a lame ending, with Rosenberger - who has railed constantly against religion throughout the series - strongly hinting that a miracle has taken place or that there is some kind of supernatural power attached to the Shroud. ("How could anyone even begin to explain the impossible?")


Camellion thinks about George Washington being the father of his country: "If George could come back and see what a mess the U.S. was in, he'd demand a vasectomy!"

Some lazy writing: "He dropped like a stone to the stones, his head making a thud as it hit the floor of the porch. By the time the Red Brigades coglione was stretched out stone dead on the floor ..."

Cole: "Let's not hang around like a big fart in a little phone booth."

"Assad is a stupid sand crab suffering from delusions of grandeur. If he keeps it up, he might even get the ambition to be the governor of Arizona!" (Note: Rosenberger lived in Arizona when he wrote this book.)